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What if Jesus had a wife?

11 Nov
Jesus wife papyrus

Jesus wife papyrus

We in the LCA place great emphasis on scholarly reference to Scripture, so it is surprising that, amongst some, there is a resistance to the outcomes of scholarly research on Scripture.  Some weeks ago in the news was the announcement of a Coptic ancient papyrus that includes Jesus referring to “my wife”, with another section of the fragment, containing the phrase “she will be able to be my disciple”.  The Vatican declares it a fake (more a statement of faith than rigour of research) but what if it’s not?  Scholars are constantly researching those books that didn’t make it into the canon for clues to how we might interpret the Scriptures, so isn’t this new source at least worthy of consideration?

If we insist that Jesus was not married, why is that so important to us?  Would it rock our faith if it turned out to be true?  If perhaps Jesus was married would that change our theology?   What might it mean for how we viewed women in the church?   The whole of Christendom is influenced by Augustine and Aquinas who had a very limited understanding of gender, but what might their theology of gender have been if they knew that Jesus had a wife?  How would that have affected us?

Whether Jesus had a wife seems less than central to our Christian faith, but it would certainly give cause for reflection on our current relegation of women to the margins of the church.

__________

 Added 13th Nov – From the work of Karen King, a professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who presented the findings at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome. Reference

Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her so...

Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her sons Daniel and Henry, 1848.

Early Christians didn’t agree about whether they should marry or remain celibate, and the earliest claim Jesus didn’t marry is from 200 A.D., King said.

“One of the things we do know is that very rarely in ancient literature was the marital status of men discussed,” King said in a conference call with reporters. “Silence in marital status is normal.”

Only women were identified in terms of family relationships, as someone’s sister, mother, or wife, King said. The question of whether Jesus married came up later when people wanted to use him as a model for their lives, she said.

Added 13th Nov –  Further reference to Augustine’s understanding of gender – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman… I have been traveling over the old world during the last few years and have found new food for thought. What power is it that makes the Hindoo woman burn herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion/ Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ of course he can do it. So long as ministers stand up and tell us Christ is the head of the church, so is man the head of woman, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages? You Christian women look at the Hindoo, the Turkish, the Mormon women, and wonder how they can be held in such bondage…

Now I ask you if our religion teaches the dignity of woman? It teaches us the abominable idea of the sixth century–Augustine’s idea–that motherhood is a curse; that woman is the author of sin, and is most corrupt. Can we ever cultivate any proper sense of self-respect as long as women take such sentiments from the mouths of the priesthood? ―

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16 Comments

Posted by on November 11, 2012 in sociology, theology, women's ordination

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

16 responses to “What if Jesus had a wife?

  1. Sandra Wittwer

    November 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Certainly not offensive. Jesus, truly man. Marriage, the ‘normal’ state for people.

     
    • Katie and Martin

      November 12, 2012 at 12:55 am

      Exactly. The more we learn what happens to suppressed sexuality in the Catholic Church the more celibacy seems wrong. Jesus, fully human, fully man.

       
  2. Michael Snow

    November 16, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Whether the fragment was false [beyond reasonable doubt, now] or genuine, a teaching about Jesus having a wife is heresy. That Christians can be so easily deceived shows how far apostasy is spreading.

     
    • Katie and Martin

      November 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      I suppose you could call it heresy as it is different to what has been traditionally believed through the ages, however, if it was true, it might cast further light on the person of Jesus. If the fragment showed that Jesus was actually a potter, perhaps you might not call it heresy, but as it’s about sexuality we respond in a different manner. We seem to have swallowed early theologians’ dark view on sexuality, but sexuality, is a gift from God. As such, perhaps Jesus has more to say to us on this matter.

       
      • Wally

        November 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm

        Suppose this is a genuine piece of papyrus written at the time of Jesus. I imagine that the people of the day were as human as people are today. We are not unfamiliar with people writing all sorts of stuff – including that which is not correct. In other words, false stories written with less than honourable motives. I guess it is also possible that exactly the same thing occurred at the time that this papyrus was supposed written. So, it may be genuine, but it may just as much be a genuine “story of the day” – we ill undoubtedly never know. Given that Scripture does not lend any support to the view possibly implied in this papyrus, I am more than happy to let it float by as of no consequence – in other words: dismiss it. Sadly, while it is touted as possibly genuine with no proof at all, it will serve to unsettle souls – that is sad indeed. That is where the real heresy lies.

         
        • Katie and Martin

          November 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm

          Dismissing it seems a valid response, given, as you say, no other evidence. What might be our response however, if three or four pieces of evidence were discovered?
          Wally, if Jesus’ sexuality played out in marriage, what do you think would be the key theological issues?

           
          • Wally

            November 19, 2012 at 3:31 am

            “What might be our response however, if . . . ” – that is of course, a hypothetical. I treat hypotheticals variously. If there is some useful lessons to be learnt, or some planning possible, there may be some value in engaging in debate. If not, then it is pointless. This one falls into the latter – nothing to be gained, nothing to be learnt, only mileage to be made by those who might want to push something. And, in this case, I have no idea what. Again, Scripture does not leave any room for this issue and that is good enough for me and for all, I suggest.

             
        • Christoph Donges

          November 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

          “We are not unfamiliar with people writing all sorts of stuff – including that which is not correct. In other words, false stories written with less than honourable motives. I guess it is also possible that exactly the same thing occurred at the time that this papyrus was supposed written. So, it may be genuine, but it may just as much be a genuine “story of the day” – we ill undoubtedly never know.”

          Wouldn’t the same apply to ‘scripture’? We will undoubtedly never know…

           
          • Wally

            November 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm

            I don’t think I can give you an answer that will ever satisfy you.

             
          • cdonges

            November 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm

            Wally :
            I don’t think I can give you an answer that will ever satisfy you.

            But you have tried and I appreciate that.

             
  3. vegan

    November 17, 2012 at 5:13 am

    so if it was genuine, teaching about it is heresy?

    i cannot begin to understand the straitjacketed thinking and faith behind that statement.

     
    • cdonges

      November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      vegan :
      so if it was genuine, teaching about it is heresy?
      i cannot begin to understand the straitjacketed thinking and faith behind that statement.

      It’s not about the truth, A heretic is someone who doesn’t agree with ‘me’…

       
    • Katie and Martin

      November 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks Christoph. Love the way you extend the conversation.

       
  4. Tapman

    December 4, 2012 at 3:21 am

    I know the Da Vinci code was only fictional but when I read it and Jesus was said to have married, I felt the similar fear to what I did with womens ordination and homosexuality – it felt as though if this could be true then the whole lot could fall in a heap. I thought about this for a few weeks and came to the conclusion that I actually like the idea that he may have been married. The bible does say that he can empathise with us because he became one of us – I think it is actually a comforting thought. I think deep down we think of sex as being sinful and Jesus couldn’t do that. If he was married it wouldn’t change a thing.

     
    • Katie and Martin

      December 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      We think you’re right. If sex is sinful then of course Jesus never participated, but if human sexuality is God given and a blessing, then the door is open for Jesus to have expressed his sexuality in marriage. While it would certainly change our understanding of Jesus, we’re not convinced that it shakes any pillars of our faith. Similarly, if some of Jesus’ miracles were proven not to have happened, that’s not going to shake our faith.

       

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